In this section, we will guide you through the first few steps after the death of a loved one. Watch our helpful video which carefully explains everything you will need to do; from registering a death to letting friends and family know that a loved one has sadly passed away.
If someone dies in hospital
If your loved one passes away in hospital, the staff will issue a Medical Certificate and formal notice, and provide information about how to register the death. The deceased will usually be kept in the hospital mortuary until your chosen funeral director arranges for your loved one to be brought into their care.
If someone dies at home
If someone dies at home, you should call their GP or the NHS helpline 111 as soon as possible. The doctor will then be able to examine the deceased and confirm the death. Only then will they be able to issue the Medical Certificate and formal notice, offering you advice on the next steps.
If someone dies unexpectedly
If someone dies suddenly or unexpectedly, call 999 straight away to request an ambulance and the police. You will need to stay on the line and follow any instructions given to you. The emergency services will often contact a coroner, or a procurator fiscal in Scotland, to investigate the death.
If someone dies abroad
If someone dies abroad, you will need to register the death according to the regulations of the country in which your loved one has passed and get a consulate death certificate. You will also need to register the death in the UK.
Regardless of where your loved one passed away, you will need to get a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death as soon as possible. This will usually be given to you in an envelope and will contain information about registering the death.
The certificate will include the following information:
- The name of the deceased
- Their age
- The date of death
- The place of death
- The cause of death
It is a legal requirement to register the death and it must be done within five days in England and Wales, or within eight days in Scotland.
Once you have made an appointment with the local registrar, you will be required to take the following information with you:
- The full name of the person who died
- Their full home address
- Their date and place of birth
- Details of where and when the person died
- Their occupation, if applicable
- If they were receiving any benefits, including pensions or allowance from public funds
- The name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner, if applicable
The only document that is legally required to register a death is the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, though it may be useful to bring further information and paperwork with you to the registry office. When you have provided the registrar with all the required paperwork and information, you will receive any relevant forms, including the , which allows either burial or cremation to go ahead.
Unfortunately, your loved one’s funeral may need to be delayed if a coroner is called to investigate the death.
A coroner is typically appointed by the local authority to investigate a death when:
- The cause of death is unknown
- The death was sudden, violent or unnatural
- The person died in prison or custody
- The identity of the person who has died is uncertain or unknown
- A Medical Certificate of Cause of Death isn’t available
What is a post-mortem?
In some cases, the coroner may decide a post-mortem is needed after a death. The aim of a post-mortem is to determine the cause of death.
What is an inquest?
If a post-mortem shows an unnatural or unknown cause of death, the coroner may open an inquest. An inquest is a fact-finding legal investigation in which evidence will be reviewed to determine how the person died.
When a loved one passes away, the NHS will typically contact the next-of-kin and ask them to confirm that the deceased had not changed their mind about being an organ donor prior to their death. If a coroner has been called to investigate the death, the coroner’s consent may be necessary before the organs or body can be donated.
Once you have registered the death, you will be able to arrange for your loved one to be brought into the funeral director’s care. At Dignity, our caring professionals will be on hand to provide all the support and advice you need throughout this difficult time.
Your local Dignity Funeral Director will require the following information prior to bringing the deceased into our care:
- The person’s full name, address and age
- Where they are resting now
- The name and contact details of their doctor
- If you have a death certificate
- Where you would like the deceased to rest before the funeral - either the funeral home or at your own home
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There are a number of things you will need to think about when arranging a funeral. Here are some key considerations:
- Will it be cremation or burial?
- Where will the funeral take place?
- Who would you like to lead the funeral?
- Will the funeral be religious or non-religious?
- How would you like to personalise the funeral?
The way you break the news to friends and family is very important and can be an overwhelming experience for some people. You will need to decide whether you are telling people face-to-face or over the phone, and, if you’re unsure on how to phrase the news, try and keep it as simple as possible.
When a loved one passes away, you will need to notify various organisations about the death as soon as possible.
Who to inform first
- The person’s GP
- Relatives and friends
- The funeral director
- Register office
- Health professionals – you may need to cancel any outstanding hospital appointments
Property and bills
- Mortgage provider or landlord
- Utility companies (electricity, gas and water)
- Buildings and contents insurance provider
- Mobile phone provider
- TV companies
- Social groups and clubs
- Re-direct the post
- Close online and social media accounts
Download the interactive checklist
It’s important that you find out whether the deceased made a will and discover where it is located. If you cannot find the will, their solicitor may have a copy.
If there is a will
If your loved one has left a will, they will have typically chosen at least one person to act as the executor of the will; this is often a relative or close friend. The will may include instructions for funeral arrangements, which will need to be followed or taken into account when arranging your loved one’s funeral.
If you are the executor of the will, then it is your duty to identify the assets and debts of the estate and distribute them accordingly. Depending on the size of the estate and the kinds of asset within it, you may need to apply for probate.
If there is no will
If someone dies without making a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. You will need to decide who will sort out the deceased’s estate and contact the Probate Registry to apply for ‘letters of administration’.
When a loved one passes away, coping with grief can be incredibly difficult for some people. We've listed a number of helpful organisations which offer bereavement support below:
We know that one no one can understand exactly what your loss feels like to you. But we do understand that it’s sometimes easier to talk to someone outside of your friends and family about grief and the impact bereavement has on your life. This is why we offer the GriefChat service.
was created by bereavement experts and allows you to chat directly to a specially trained bereavement counsellor. GriefChat counsellors are experienced in supporting bereaved people and will listen to your story, explore how your grief is affecting you and help you to find any additional support you might need.